Bridesmaids

Bridesmaids isn’t the be all end all feminist comedy film that it’s lauded as but it offers food for thought about the dainty, polished roles that women are typically pigeonholed in. If you can stomach its raunchy food for thought, of course.

Kristen Wiig portrays Annie, a neurotic woman in her late thirties going through an almost midlife crisis. Her boyfriend leaves her after their cake bakery closes down. Annie’s kind-of-but-not-really dating a hot, but emotionally asinine tool (who, to his credit, is played by the typically charming Jon Hamm). Her dead-end job as a jewelry assistant leaves her uninspired, grumpy, and still unable to afford her rent. To top everything off, her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) is tying the knot and introduces her to the picture perfect bridesmaid Helen (Rose Byrne). Helen, who, though tasteful and elegant, comes off as irreparably snobbish and creates a rift between Annie and Lillian with her lavish wedding ideas.

The humor in Bridesmaids is goofy, over-the-top, and gross. I’m on the fence about raunchy, over-the-top humor since I feel like it banks greatly on shock value. Some of the film’s gags make me laugh—like Melissa McCarthy’s puppy hoarding scheme—while others made me cringe—most notably, the notorious dress-fitting scene where all of the bridesmaids get food poisoning. It is refreshing to see women as vulgar and dirty as men, who are less likely to be criticized for that behavior. The ridiculousness of the dress-fitting scene makes it fun to watch but the deliberate over-performing feels slightly off-putting. Even hammy and a little condescending, as though the creators are giving themselves a pat on the back for saying, hey, women can be nasty too. And, the scene is nasty. Do not watch it on a full stomach.

The film is refreshing in its deep portrayal of women’s relationships. Annie’s boy problems are charming but relatively inconsequential. Besides her friends-with-benefits ordeal with Hamm’s character, she harbors a sweet, quiet relationship with Officer Nathan Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd), a stumble-bumble Irish policeman. Bridesmaids predominantly spotlights Annie’s relationships with other women, namely, Lillian, Helen, and her mother. Through these relationships, we understand her insecurities about being broke, unemployed, and unloved. The women in the film don’t compete over a man; they compete with each other. Jealousy stems from the desire for validation and on a deeper level, reluctant admiration. Annie wants to be as collected and tasteful as Helen, who herself (surprise, surprise) eventually admits to struggling with forming authentic female friendships.

While you can discern depth in its relationships, the structure of the film strikes me as slightly muddy. The third act, in particular, is a hair loose. There are lots of gags, most notably the car scene with Annie and Helen as they try to get Nathan’s attention. We don’t get to see much of Lillian when things hit the fan for Annie, which feels strange considering that the film revolves around their friendship. Their last conversation together feels convenient—Lillian had never voiced concerns about Helen but now confides in Annie at the very end? Hm.

Bridesmaids will bring out some laughs and share hard-knock life lessons about womanhood. Like its protagonist, it’s charmingly flawed. Chick flick connoisseurs who can’t watch another romantic comedy centered on the pursuit of a man will get a kick out of Bridesmaids. 

 

Trainwreck

Anchored by Amy Schumer’s comedic brio, Trainwreck brings warmth and sharp humor to taboo subjects like sex and death. It reveals Schumer’s talents as a writer, actress, and comic but simultaneously showcases the current limitations of the modern love genre.

Trainwreck revolves around Amy Townsend, a thirtysomething magazine writer who works hard, parties harder, and has serious commitment issues. She’s mastered the art of dating men without getting attached, a behavior that subverts the standard trope of men casually dating women without getting attached. Her fun, blase attitude towards men supposedly stems from a lesson that her father inculcated into her at a young age—the film opens with him telling her and her sister that monogamy isn’t realistic. Trainwreck divides its time evenly between Amy’s various gaffes with her boss, string of men, and family. While begrudgingly working on an assignment, Amy falls for her subject Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), a straightlaced sports doctor with a nerdy boyish charm. At the same time, she balances this newfound love interest with family drama between her traditional sister and jerkish father whose MS has significantly progressed.

I suppose that I have a soft spot for Amy, who’s a scrappy female journalist that’s less than perfect. She’s a bit of Nola Darling and a lot of Bridget Jones. That’s to say, a wonderfully complicated female character whose shortcomings are as convincing as her warmth. I also have a soft spot for Bill Hader as Aaron Conners. Hader’s Aaron is achingly sincere, an edged up bumbling Hugh Grant romcom character for contemporary times. That said, given what we’ve seen from Hader’s performance on Saturday Night Live, I do feel like we could’ve seen even more depth to his character.

There’s something about films and shows on modern relationships (like Girls and Love) that feels ingratiating to me from time to time. I think of the character of Bojack Horseman, who recognizes his terrible behavior and recognizes that he recognizes his terrible behavior. He knows that this doesn’t make him a better person (er horse) and continues to repeat the offensive behavior compulsively. While self-actualization is satirical on Bojack Horseman, it’s typically the goal in many stories about modern love. And it’s done with such honesty that it almost feels like these films and shows allow the characters to get away with their dubious behavior without ramifications. I couldn’t help but think about this looking back on Amy’s sordid (and illegal) encounter with her intern and her absurdly unprofessional relationship with Aaron. I suppose empathy is the goal. But empathy and accountability are seldom mutually exclusive.

Many modern love stories also drive me insane in their portrayal of race and gender. For example, there are many jokes about Asians and Black people throughout the film, and many of them do not land and do not do anything to advance the narrative of the film. I’m not against edgy humor that pushes boundaries (Ali Wong! Tiffany Haddish!) but I am hesitant about humor for the sake of humor, especially when it uncritically diminishes entire groups of people. In terms of gender, one of my biggest pet peeves is when love stories end with the career girl getting the guy and we don’t know anything about what happens to her career afterward. This is how Trainwreck ends. This is how Bridget Jones’s Baby ends. Sure, Amy does this sweet, hilarious grand romantic gesture thing and gets her piece published in Vanity Fair. But what happens to her career? Did it stop mattering because she got the guy back? For a two hour comedy that’s supposed to be about subverting conventions of female portrayals on the screen, the film relies on a lot of regressive stereotypes.

Trainwreck will satisfy romantic comedy lovers with its warm, yet prickly humor and natural chemistry between the romantic leads. Still, I’m hesitant to wholeheartedly embrace the film as feminist or progressive merely because it features a complicated woman.

 

The Big Sick

I somehow always end up enjoying Judd Apatow stuff, whether or not I intend to (PopStar: Never Stop Never Stopping, Love, Girls). His work possesses this addictive quality of sincerity embedded deep within the ostensible superficiality of modern relationships. What always makes me iffy about his previous work is its lack of diversity in terms of race and socioeconomics. The Big Sick is refreshingly different from his previous works. It features, at the forefront, a very specific and frank discussion about Kumail, an immigrant Pakistani man who straddles between appeasing his family and his desire to pursue love. His family follows the tradition of arranged marriage. He goes along with his mother’s appointments with young Pakistani women, opting to not tell them of his unorthodox ways, like the fact that he’s secretly dating a white woman. He also doesn’t pray and he isn’t serious about becoming a lawyer, much to his parents’ consternation.

The Big Sick hits on the themes of immigrant family tension and familial sacrifice. Yet it’s not a commentary movie. It’s a warm, semi-autobiographical movie that tells the story of a person, Kumail. The film paints an intricate portrait of how his family traditions impact his career and his relationship. That said, it’s a not one-dimensional or straightforward ethnography, which makes this film a brilliant piece of work about a person of color. It has elements about family but it is not solely about family. In a lot of the film, we see Kumail befriending his ex-girlfriend’s family and learning how to deal with the precariousness of her coma condition by leaning on people who are virtually strangers.  The film’s greatest strength lies not in the romantic part (the love interest, after all, is in a coma for half the movie), but the comedy part. In the film, comedy emerges as a tool. Its sole purpose isn’t to product cheap laughs but to break tension and to help the protagonist and the people in his life cope with the pain and uncertainty in their lives.